Notre Dame and Its Rather Silly Catholic Malcontents

Notre Dame is the premiere Catholic institution of higher education and research in the United States of America. Period. I don’t have a single degree or academic affiliation motivating me to say that. This assertion should be self-evident.

Keyword: should.

I am also a life-long fan of the Fighting Irish and, with their recent athletic success, I’ve been hearing fellow Catholics — including some of my nearest and dearest friends — say all kinds of negative things about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and academic integrity. Let me be very clear about this whole non-issue in three parts.

1. Besides its academic prowess, Notre Dame has a very long and storied history of sport, especially football; one that has created the perhaps most enduring and recognizable form of Catholic culture in the United States. This cultural resonance is worth its weight in gold. It is also unprecedented by any other Catholic institution in this country.

2. Notre Dame is not only number one in the BSC rankings for its performance on the football field, it is also the highest rated institution in graduation rates for student athletes. And no, they don’t offer recreation management degrees or other blow-off programs. These athletes are doing their work side by side the selective group of students whom ND admits every year. This is exceptionally unique and worthy of respect.

3. There is no room here to list all of Notre Dame’s academic accolades and accomplishments. Except this relatively minor, but most recent, one: today First Things editor, R.R. Reno, has them tied for first place with Duke Divinity School for top graduate programs in THEOLOGY. Theology. You don’t get much more conservative than First Things and you don’t get much more, well, theological than theology. Catholics should be proud of that too, obviously.

To summarize: a small bloc of Catholics (and media opportunists) are railing against Notre Dame because of its lack of “true Catholic identity.” Have these people visited the campus? Sat in on classes? Worshiped in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart or prayed in the Grotto? Whether they have or not, this ignorant out-of-hand dismissal ignores Notre Dame’s fine, well-established, and important place within the Catholic intellectual tradition and American culture in general.

And guess who isn’t all worked up and indignant about Notre Dame? Faculty hiring committees at Catholic colleges and universities.

I promise you that no one being considered for an academic position at a Catholic institution, like my alma mater (Franciscan University of Steubenville) or Ave Maria or alike, is disadvantaged for having studied at Notre Dame. They are without question benefitted by it. Notre Dame supplies other US Catholic colleges and universities with countless faculty, many of them faithful and brilliant Catholics. Plus, these small, mostly undergraduate institutions are absolutely thrilled when their — often best and brightest — students matriculate to Notre Dame for graduate school.

Notre Dame is far from perfect, that goes without saying. But that is also a sad, reactionary understatement. Notre Dame is much more than not perfect: it is to be admired and held in high regard. If my children are ever so blest as to go there, I’ll be incredibly grateful.

Sadly, many of the complaints and noise surrounding Notre Dame project a great deal of insecurity. The Vatican had very little to say about Obama’s visit there and certainly has not taken action against Notre Dame. See? Total ecclesial confidence. But this isn’t about Obama or abortion, this is about Notre Dame. Those who cannot see a distinction between those things should lay off the television and the news cycle for a while. At least until January.

On January 7, when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish suit up to compete for a national championship, save the pious indignation about whether Notre Dame is Catholic or not. Trust me, they are. Win or lose, the historical record on her behalf will surely dwarf the rather recent fad of discrediting her.

Go Irish!



  • Petro

    Few might know this, but on July 10, 2009, the Pope met with President Obama and his wife and daughters. I know. I know. You’re probably thinking, “How is it possible for the successor of Peter, the head of the Church, to meet with such an evil man?” It is most likely due to the creeping secularism that has invaded the Vatican as well as the corruption of liberal thought that has rotted the heart and faith of the Holy See.

    We need to renew and strengthen the Catholic identity of the Vatican by assisting and supporting popes that are faithful to the teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church by refusing to meet with anyone who might disagree with them.

    • Michael

      The Pope can meet with whomever he chooses. He is the head of the Church with secular as well as a sacred roles.

      No one cares if the President of the United States disagrees with what the Pope thinks, especially the Pope. What we, and the Pope, don’t want is the President and the US government dictating to the Church what she believes and how she is supposed to manifest it.

      The reason for the outrage at President Obama’s honorary degree from Notre Dame is because of the “honorary” part. The reason for the outrage that the faithful had at him being invited to speak at Notre Dame commencement is because that, too, is an honor. And now, Notre Dame’s bad judgement is being paid out in spades because their beloved President Obama is going to make them pay for abortions and artificial birth control. Their jackass of a president Rev. John “I know more then my local ordinary” Jenkins deserves all of the derision and disprespect he recieves from that stupid stupid stupid move. I think he has weekly tea with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. In any case, lucky for them their football team generates so much revinue; I understand their donations are off.

      Since the author has stated that many many faithful Catholics go on to teach from Notre Dame, I have to point out that many many faithless Catholics also go out, and with the credibility of their degree spew all kinds of anti Catholic scree.

      I wish, if there is a Catholic soul there, that they’s spend more time displaying that then the dissident crap they are so widely known for promoting.

      • Petro

        It is quite an honor to have an audience with the Pope. That a man who is “dictating to the Church what she believes and how she is supposed to manifest it” was given that honor is surely wrong. Even more recently, Archbishop Dolan attended a dinner for Catholic Charities with the President and sat next to him and spoke to him. The President’s invitation to this dinner was an honor. Why should they have bestowed this honor on such a man?

        The faithful should be outraged that the President be invited to either occasion. It is clearly the sign of a weakened Church polluted by dissident crap.

        • s e

          i don’t know. i wasn’t particularly upset when notre dame granted the honorary degree, but it does seem like we’re using the word “honor” rather loosely. On the one hand, clearly Jesus ate with the tax collectors, and he honored them in so doing. But that doesn’t mean that he endorsed their practices…he was evangelizing, in his way. But when Notre Dame awards a degree, it does seem more endorsement than evangelization. Perhaps. On the other hand…well, I’ll leave it at that. But I recognize there are other hands. The author’s point is well-taken, though, that Notre Dame is certainly a bastion of cultural and academic Catholicism, whatever else it may be in addition to that. Even Michael acknowledges this, when he admits that the degree grants a sort of cultural authority, for better or worse. I admit I don’t know what scree is, though, and that may flavor my opinion on the matter.

    • rick

      And during his ministry on Earth, who did Christ share his meal table with? Saints only?

      • Megan

        I think there’s a verse in the Bible that says something about Christ not coming for the healthy but the sick. Oh, yes, that’s Mark 2:17. “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””

  • Joshua Danis

    Wow Petro!

    You seem to be out of touch with the Church’s responsibility to engage the culture, evangelize it, and baptize it. If we hide from every person whose perspectives don’t measure up. We will eventually find ourselves hiding from everyone, including… ourselves.

    • Petro


  • Colbert fan

    Petro, you are refreshingly honest about the right path.:)

  • Kris

    Notre Dame is, in many ways, a microcosm of the Catholic Church in America, warts and all. It has had its share of theologians who have rightly been called to account for their writings (e.g., Fr. McBrien), but it has also had its share of theologians who were–and are–very orthodox, one of whom (Fr. Daley) recently received the 2012 Ratzinger Prize for Theology from the Holy Father himself. It has its share of students who are nominal Catholics, and others who participate in an annual Eucharistic Procession, attend daily Mass in its chapels, or pray the Rosary daily at the Grotto. It gave President Obama an honorary degree, and sued the administration over the HHS mandate. It recently established the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life as part of its Center for Ethics and Culture. Like all the rest of us Catholics, it is a work in progress.

    • Petro

      This was a really good response. We should never feel as if dialogue between all these different facets is not constructive. Fr. Daniel P. Horan, whose blog is wonderful, just this morning posted this:

      He notes that in Gaudium et Spes the Church specifically calls for dialogue:

      “To develop such an exchange, especially in a time characterized by rapid change and a growing variety in ways of thought, the church has particular need of those who live in the world, whether they are believers or not, and who are familiar with its various institutions and disciplines and understand them intimately. ”

      Those who seek to cut off this dialogue by some sort of purification of our institutions, particularly our institutions of higher learning, are, in fact, countermanding this call from the Church herself.

  • srocha


    Well played, well played. I like your style.

  • Bill Dempsey

    The author is either not sufficiently informed about or dismisses without warrant the main point: the deterioration of Catholic representation on the faculty. It is unfortunate to see this well composed but badly misleading description of the University. The crucial question about any university, and particularly a one that professes to be a Catholic university, is who teaches and what they teach. The University’s Mission Statement echoes Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Eccelisae in recognizing this. It declares that the school’s Catholic identity “depends upon” there being a majority of committed Catholics on the faculty. There no longer is — by far. It is simply impossible to escape the conclusion that the school is no longer an authentically Catholic university. It is still, as the author correctly points out, Catholic in many ways, but not in the way that really counts, most of all for those parents who send their children to Notre Dame expecting that they will receive a Catholic education. Some do, since there is still a minority of splendid Catholic scholars on the faculty. But most will not. The best description of the school is that of long-time and highly regarded Professor Alfred Freddoso: Notre Dame is “something like a public school in a Catholic neighborhood.” The author touts the neighborhood and ignores the school. Let him direct his scorn, if he will, at Professor Freddoso and others on the faculty who have spoken out.

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